Happy Talk

I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and on American Airlines flights. Like everyone else on earth, I hate when people insist on a conversation. On one flight, the woman next to me talked about her affair, her husband’s affair, how hot the steward was, and why she hated her children. Another time, the flight attendant spilled an entire can of beer on my lap. She was horrified and deeply apologetic, but it was an accident so no big deal. Unfortunately, it meant flying from JFK to LAX and smelling like I was at a frat party. The guy next to me told me every story he had about spilling liquids (wow that was exciting), and then asked if I wanted some underwear from his overnight bag (oi!).

My favorite was a woman who was a famous gospel singer who was flying back from Chicago after being on Oprah. She talked about her upcoming wedding plans for three hours. After three vodka tonics, she became quite friendly and repeatedly said, “Why you are so cute. Let me give you just one kiss.” I reminded her that her fiancé was waiting to pick her up.

As obnoxious as chattering is on airplanes, it’s a good design device. Unless you implant one of those little audio chips, however, you need alternative ways to do this. I love quotation marks. I love talk bubbles. Both are incredible symbols that everyone understands, “Oh, that means someone is talking.” One of my all time favorite solutions is Matthew Liebowitz’s cover for H.L. Mencken Speaking. A single bad image of the author and an uncomfortable composition is brought to life with three pieces of simple punctuation. And, to make it even better, Mencken isn’t speaking. If he were photographed speaking, the cover would be too obvious and make us wonder what he is saying specifically and individually. The closed mouth leads us to hear all of his words.

Cabin in the Sky

In the 1960s, Branniff Airlines had a groovy thing going on. Alexander Girard designed a great program that made every other airline look boring and sad. But one little company was leaving Branniff in the dust regarding grooviness. Pacific Southwest Airlines was a regional airline on the west coast. Many of us remember the PSA planes with the smile on the front. But do you remember the super-fine uniforms and graphics? Today, I fly American Airlines exclusively. Their uniforms are clean and professional. My sister is an American Airlines flight attendant, and once I mention that on-board, the other flight attendants are extra nice. I guess it’s good to project a business atmosphere on a plane. However, the PSA uniforms are so incredible and bright. Of course, they didn’t project a business atmosphere, unless it was businessmen watching women pole-dancing.

To learn more about PSA, Chris Laborde has a fantastic site dedicated to all things PSA.

The Color of Fear

Many of you have written and asked, “Sean, I find your color sense excellent. How can I acquire this skill?” This is not an easy question to answer. As far as I can tell, any color works with any other color. All that information about primary, complementary, and tertiary colors is nonsense. Although you should know it, so buy my color book.

To prove this point, look at the color palette in Airport 1975. Fuchsia and brown: why not? Lavender and magenta: of course! Butter yellow and violet: go for it. Why can’t airplanes look like this anymore? Everything is so “business professional” with navy blue and gray.

I want flight attendants in violet, and wall hangings made of carpet in intense colors. I want that groovy first class lounge upstairs on a 747 with an “autumnal” palette of browns and oranges. Alexander Girard did a fantastic job on Braniff (to be covered on another post), but he wasn’t brave enough to throw brights, pastels, and earth tones together in a crazy jumble. And finally, all airline companies should stop with the boarding music or Gershwin, or the American Airlines soundtrack. They should play Helen Reddy’s rendition of “Best Friend” repeatedly. This alone will make anyone who is frightened to fly desperate for the plane to take off and stop the music.